Created in 1996, “Men Jaro" (“friendship” in township slang) is one of the first works choreographed by Vincent S. K. Mantsoe, created for five dancers from the Moving into Dance company, who the musicians accompany on stage, playing pieces by the South African composer and ethnomusicologist Anthony Caplan. The piece “celebrates and redefines the intrinsic relationship that exists between African contemporary dance, the rite and African ritual music” .
Constructed in twelve tableaux which alternate group dances, trios, duets, solos, the choreography of Vincent Mantsoe is “highly crafted in response to the complex rhythms of Caplan's music, played on traditional South African instruments like the mbrira (thumb piano), umrhubhe (mouth bow), uhadi (gourd bow), botsorwane (string instrument), drums, shakers and clappers, which perfectly complement the songs of Sasa Magwaza” . The choreographer makes a point of reminding us in the programme notes which accompanied the performance of “Men Jaro” that, in spite of its roots in South African traditions, “it is inspired by the personal heritage of each performer [who are from Japan, the United States, South Africa or France] and the assimilation of other cultures by Vincent Mantsoe”.
In the middle of the piece, the choreographer engages in a long solo, immediately replayed in silence and slow-motion before they combine in a duet. The second part of the work, characterised by a more significant theatricality and slowness, again ends with a female solo.
The work was performed again in 2006-2007 by Vincent Mantsoe's company during a tour of North America with the African Music Workshop Ensemble and is still a part of his repertoire today. Anthony Caplan's original composition was given a Bessie Award in 2007.
 performance notes for “Men-Jaro”, 2007 tour of North America
Statement of intent
"Why “Men-Jaro” explores the bond between South African traditional music and contemporary dance. Man, although he is very much a product of the time in which he lives, is also the fruit of traditions which have made him who he is now. Every man, and in the piece every dancer, is a mix of traditions and modernity. Vincent Mantsoe wants to show that this duality of everyone's personality is present in gestures, and that each performer expresses himself within his relationship to tradition, guided by his own perception of South African music, and to modernity, through his contemporary body language. This language, like the meeting of modernity and tradition, will express moments of conflict, as well as playful and consensual moments.
Source : "Description of the piece”, Association NOA -Cie Vincent Mantsoe performance notes for “Men-Jaro”, 2007 tour of North America.
Roslyn Lucas, "Beyond the body, Making Spirit Move", The New York Times, 22 février 2007
Updating: March 2014
Choreographer, performer and dance teacher, Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe was born in 1971 in Soweto, a Johannesburg township (South Africa), in the district of Deipkoof. Raised by his mother in a family of healers (“sangomas” in Zulu), he attended ritual healing ceremonies from a very young age, when he accompanied women during their trance (his grandmother, aunt and mother) on the drums. His personal choreographic practice was initially built on street dances influenced by the first music videos, among them those of Michael Jackson, who Mantsoe would imitate, along with his childhood friend Gregory Vuyani Maqoma. Along with other friends from the township, they created a street dance group, The Joy Dancers.
During this time, when he described himself as a “punk with a perm”, Vincent Mantsoe only just survived a serious car accident thanks to his mother's care. This “rebirth” as he calls it, made him become aware of the value of his spiritual heritage. His work would consequently become an opportunity to evoke his ancestral beliefs or the voices to which he surrenders when he dances.
With the help of a scholarship, he became a hard-working student in 1989, training at the Moving into Dance Company Mophatong (MIDM), one of the first multiracial companies in South Africa, run by Sylvia Glasser, which he then joined at the end of his studies. There he studied a wide range of techniques and types of dance, Asian and Western as well as African, in South Africa and in Australia, at the Victoria College of Arts. In 1995 he took part in the 1ère rencontres chorégraphiques de l’Afrique et de l’Océan Indien (first Africa and Indian Ocean choreographic encounters) in Luanda with the company MID, and presented the piece “Gula Matari” which won the first prize.
He became associate artistic director of the company MIDM in 1997, and created many solos and ensemble pieces there, also collaborated with other companies in South Africa (Ballet Theatre Afrikan) as well as in the United States (Dance Theatre of Harlem), in Sweden (Skanes Dans Theatre), Israel (The Inbal Dance Company), and in Canada (Collective of Black Artists).
His choreography combines traditional African dance with contemporary, Aboriginal, Asian, Indian and Balinese influences, and embraces ballet, Tai-chi and various martial arts, to forge a personal afro fusion style. A multiple prize winner, Vincent Mantsoe has an international career, particularly in Japan, in the United States and in Canada.
The demands of his international career led him to give up his responsibilities as associate director in 2001 to become artistic consultant instead; Vincent Mantsoe then founded his own company in 2005, alongside his wife, the dancer Cécile Maubert, who he met while working with the Marseilles choreographer Michel Kelemenis in 1999. Based at Saint Pont in the Auvergne region, this is how he describes the philosophy which underpins the work of the Association Noa-Cie Vincent Mantsoe: “The spirit of dance and Ancestors are the source of the work, the free mind cannot be separated from the natural force, that ultimately create a unique way of executing different forces, which can lead to the process of transformation between the past and present”.
Despite being based in France, Vincent Mantsoe is clear about his South African identity: “I'm a South African choreographer in France, not a French choreographer” . The creation of “Skwatta” during the Jomba! Festival (Durban) in 2012 testifies to his roots in contemporary South African society: indeed the work is inspired by the makeshift camps which are plentiful throughout South Africa.
Sources : V. Mantsoe ; M.- C. Vernay, “Vincent Mantsoe: “Transmettre un message social de rebellion”, Libération 2 July, 1997 ; Article in the “City Press” in August 2012
Choreography : Vincent Sekwati Koko MANTSOE
Interpretation : Vincent Sekwati Koko MANTSOE, Aude ARAGO, Lesole Z. MAINE, Cecile MAUBERT-MANTSOE, Meri OTOSHI
Original music : Anthony CAPLAN
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